To answer Arlene’s call

Have you read the new Harry Potter? says she. Harry Potter and the Invisible Border.

Sounds good, says I. What’s it about?

Well, says she, sitting down in her throne overlooking the serene waters of Lough Erne, it’s about these delusional people who speak a strange Celtic language and claim that evil overlords use brute force to intimidate them around the border between their land and land that was once theirs.

Is it kind of like Trump and his wall?

Well you know, says she, reaching for another battenberg slice that the lady’s club baked this morning, there is no wall, there never was and there is no border, there never was, so I guess they are the same, yes.

So are these Celtic people like the Mexicans?

No, Mexicans speak a language that I recognise. Spanish is not used to oppress people. Speakers of Gaelic use it as a weapon of mass destruction.

Gaelic, isn’t that the one that uses the Módh Cionniollach?

Exactly! They condemn the use of tear gas, but resort to torture like the Módh Cionniollach and the notorious Tuiseal Ginideach. These people are morally bankrupt.

So, there is tear gas used in the story, is there?

Well, hypothetically, if there were to be a border… that is to say, if one was to materialise… as in, the book refers to there having been a border that disappeared, so let’s say it were to reappear, although we both know that such a border never existed, well then in that case, I would imagine that there could be tear gas employed by the forces of the crown should they deem it necessary to use it in the face of the Celtic linguists. Do you follow?

Eh…So there is a border in the book?

Well of course there’s a border. There has to be a border. How else are they to protect themselves? Her lips frothed at the sides. Had she had any battenberg left, she may have thrown it at me at that point.

Do you believe in Santa? says I.

There is no Santa. There has never been a Santa. I believe in Santa. The Torys know my stance on Santa. I am fully supportive of the deployment of Santa across the Union.

I could smell kindling burning, as though a campfire were being started. The scorched smell was accompanied with a crackling that built up to a loud hiss when her eyes popped from her head revealing a mass of burning tangleweed inside. Her nose caught fire and burned in an instant, reducing to a splatter, not unlike duck pâte, that dripped down her chin and onto her navy Hobbs’ two piece.

I admired the view on the way out. Across on Lough Erne, a lonesome boatman made his way across the peaceful waters: a dove sat calmly on the mast.

 

 

 

 

Gymnauseum

I caught his eyes from across the packed gym and my heart skipped a beat. Or maybe two. I was on a treadmill at the time, with incline set to max and as it was the first week in January, I was wearing my Christmas excess. Breath stopped. Sweat poured. If there was anyone I didn’t want to see today, it was the good looking guy from the gym. I didn’t mind the juice heads or the Asian students taking selfies of themselves on machines. I wouldn’t have minded the posers and posturers, the guys with curly wurly arms. But the good looking guy was the one I didn’t want to see.

Amid the normal landscape of a university gym, there’s the healthy ratio of fit girls, fat girls, fab and flab. There’s the proportionate number of Kerry to Mayo jerseys and there’s always that one guy who refuses to wear anything other than his 1999 Utd kit. (Yes, the full strip.) Corporates and scholars train side by side in a smelly mix of plankers and bankers, climbers and rhymers. There are the down to earthers who prefer to do floor exercises above all else and the international students who stare at you until you’re forced to get up and give them your machine.

I hopped into the gym that day with the noblest of new rear resolutions. Squats were my promise to myself. All the squats. That all changed when, already breathless, I laid eyes on the only one who could take my breath away. He was walking shoulders back in the direction of an Arc, wearing a navy Under Armour t-shirt and blue Nike shorts. His runners had only manifested over Christmas. They glowed in unworn whiteness. His round face looked fuller than the last time I’d seen him, but just as distracting. I could still recognise the mix of Stenson and Eriksen that I loved and I struggled even more to breathe.

I tried to push the STOP button on the treadmill, instead hit SPEED and found myself channelling my inner Zola Budd. So much so, that my stomach whipped itself into a trembling mousse. My face smouldered. I couldn’t keep up with my feet and all I could think was ‘He’s watching!’. When I eventually managed to tug the emergency cord, my legs wound themselves around each other and I folded to a panting catastrophe on the canvas. I was struggling to hold down my breakfast, when over appears the ride.

‘Jaysus, that was some workout’ he says, ‘are you ok?’

I couldn’t fight it anymore. Breakfast was served.

 

 

 

Joe Bloggs and Scanda Jackets

What ever happened to Joe Bloggs jeans? I thought they were here to stay. I was happy to ditch the X Works ones I’d worn for my confirmation in lieu of my first pair of Bloggs: red denims. They were the business. The trademark strip of light coloured material with Bloggs stitching that ran down the thigh of one leg was my passport to what I perceived as haute-couture. My second pair were green. I was in my element. I had wanted them for months. 

As was usual in the case of fashion during my childhood, I was a year or so behind the curve. In the case of Nike runners, it wasn’t until I was about 15 that I had my first pair.  And even at that, mine were Cross Trainers not Air Max, my first pair of Air Max came along at age 30. We got out first video player around ’95 when I was 14. Bear in mind that VHS had been out since the 70’s. Now you see what I mean. For the record, we still don’t have wifi at home.

Another trophy first was my Umbro jumper. You know the one – grey with a half-zip and navy Umbro lettering on the front. I became a proud owner in or around second year of secondary school and it meant I was catching up on the cool gang. Growing up in Tallaght I watched on while we came through the age of Soothers (necklace pendants: the more you wore the cooler you were with some people walking around doubled up under the weight of dozens of plastic dummies), Scrunchies (the aim was to go large: have the pony dead centre on the top of your head with about eleven velour scrunchies casting it skywards to antennae lengths), Soverigns (people took an ambidextrous approach and wore gold sovereign rings on multiple fingers on both hands – moderation was not in vogue) and Scanda jackets. I may reflect on Soothers, Scrunchies and Soverigns with the vague care of someone who has just missed a bus but is aware that it wasn’t the one they actually wanted, but when Scandas are involved, I have to say that was my bus. I hopped on board the Scanda movement.

My investment took the form of a purple one, with a lime green net lining in the body and the hood and a cerise pink trim. Mine was the only purple one at school. For context, there was an unwritten code that if someone in your class got one in a certain colour, you could not duplicate. The twins had yellow and red, Angie had turquoise, Eileen had a green one. The trick was to hop on this trend as soon as you could. There are only so many colours in the spectrum and nobody likes plagiarism. I withdrew all my post office savings and made the biggest purchase of my life yet. It cost £110, which was astronomical for me. But it is an investment that has paid off.  

A full twenty five years after taking the plunge, I am still wearing it and I still love it. Let’s face it, it’s a coat for hiking. In Tallaght in 1993, I didn’t do a whole lot of hill-walking, save for the odd ramble up to the bridge in Séan Walsh Park on my way to or from The Square. I’ve since brought it up Carrauntoohil, Slieve Donard, Ben Nevis and it knows the slope of Croagh Patrick as well as myself at this stage. It could find the summit on its own. It’s a purple coat built for all ages apparently. It was with me in youth, will remain with me through middle years and who knows, I may still cling to it when the time comes and my limbs are too weary to carry me any longer. I do wish I’d held onto my Joe Bloggs though. There was something about those jeans. scandagrainnedaly.com

Black as sin

Back in the days of confession boxes and the ritual of relaying misdemeanours to a man in a dark box wearing a white collar, I must confess that I dumbed down the sins. I made minor adjustments so that the Reverend Father wouldn’t think I was a daughter of Satan.

If I stole my brother’s chocolate, as was the case almost always, I’d lay it on as ‘I was a bit mean to my brother Father’. If I was hopelessly envious of a classmate’s fancy pencils, I’d pass it off as ‘I was not as nice to a girl in my class as I should have been Father.’ If I cursed blind for whatever reason, I’d just keep shtum about it.

By the time I got into the business of real sins, I’d decided there was something creepy about confessionals and had stopped going for a face-to-face with a man of God who’d give me a few prayers to recite by way of penance. Confessions are generally held at off-peak hours, when churches are not in full flow, alive with the beat of prayers, sermons and ageing parishioners all trying to outdo the next in loud hymns. This only adds to the sobriety of the affair. Entering a quiet church, to then enter a dark and very quiet box has eerily funeral qualities to it. The few seconds during which you enter the confessional and sit waiting for the priest to open his side of the shutter can feel interminable. You never know what you’re going to get.

Fr. ‘Ah you’re grand, say two Hail Marys and be kind to your brother’, Fr. ‘You have sinned child and you know it, say twenty Our Fathers, ten Glory Bes, learn the Rosary in Latin and transcribe the Book of Deuteronomy before half ten mass next Sunday’. Maybe he’ll be an ancient priest who looks like he might have hung around with the apostles. This one will be hard of hearing and when you tell him you were mean to a friend, he’ll tell you that murder is a bad sin and not to do it again. When you tell him you were not kind to your Mother, he will advise that embezzlement is a sin in the eyes of God and you should reflect on that before turning yourself in to authorities. Then there are the sound priests, the ‘Howaya getting on there, were you at the match on Sunday? Good wasn’t it? Great for the club. What can I do for you? Sure you’re not a sinner. Go on home with ya and don’t let me see you in here again.They are in the minority, as are all priests these days, but they do exist.

Yet, even the sound ones don’t enamour me to the process of spilling your sins to a man behind a chickenwire screen in what resembles a dark wooden portaloo. I have, by now, accumulated a wealth of sins, many of which I wouldn’t share with most friends, nor family. I certainly wouldn’t sully the mind of a man of the cloth with such extremities. Sure, God might forgive me for the best part of them, but it’s the best parts of them that I don’t want forgiveness for. It’s the best parts that I most enjoyed and regret in equal measure. It took great effort to sin, and to sin consistently and to sin consistently well. Gloating in my sinfulness, is further evidence of the blackness of my soul. But black is never out of vogue, and sin is oldest pastime we have. Some people call Joe Duffy to confess, some write to Dear Linda, others splash salaries on shrinks. I’m sure some people still believe that the priest in the black box can purge the residue of a life well lived. That he’s somehow purer. Less tainted.

We are all equal. We all err. Fr. What’shisname and Joe and Linda, yourself and myself have done right and wrong and everything in between. And we will continue to do so for the rest of humanity. We float on an ocean of sin, we drink it, we eat it, we are it. Darkness doesn’t show us the way, light does. And that is within us.

Flash Landing

The tree went up and I went down.

It was looking handsome, freshly decorated and plump with the weight of tinsel. Fibre optic Santa was winking at me from his abode by the fireplace. The room was almost done, all left to do was to wash the floor and then Christmas could officially commence. I busied back into the room with the mop when up into the air I lifted, flip flops taking flight with the encouragement of the Flash I’d forgotten I had poured. Four foot into the air were my legs before all umpteen stones of me landed in a mess on the floor to the tune of Christmas FM. Bing Crosby to be exact.

I was raging nobody had been there to see it, because it was probably the best fall of my life. The time I fell up the stairs in school and earned myself fifteen stitches was a good one and the time I fell on the road outside Trinity and bounced across to the Dame St footpath was equally unique. My fall at the Cliffs of Moher, thankfully not fatal, earned me a prize on a school tour for  ‘best fall of the tour’. (Yes, there really was a prize, but having to walk around Ennis that day, covered head to toe in muck was deserving of some recognition, I think). However, this recent manoeuvre has been my most acrobatic to date. Easily the most creative too – I didn’t control any part of the movement, sure I hadn’t realised I had slipped until I was soaring up towards the velour angel at the top of the tree. And with the agility of Rob Kearney but the weight of Tadgh Furlong, I smashed to the tiles laughing all the way (HO HO HO). What else could I do but lie in the pool of lavender scented Flash and laugh till my sides hurt, in addition to the new pain in my wrist and lower back, left ankle and right shoulder! Tis the season.

Bing sang out and made way for Mariah Carey who provided the backing tune to my rise from the doldrums. I creaked and groaned, slipped some more in the Flash that my jeans hadn’t managed to soak up, and pulled myself up with the aid of an armchair. I could have sworn the Angel on the tree was chuckling to herself.

Or maybe it was just that the house was still ricochetting from the tremors.

bokeh shot of white and gold ceramic angel
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Sicilian Heaven

Land in Palermo expecting to arrive somewhere divine on a scale of its Italian cousins  Roma or Venezia and you’ll be sorely disappointed. It’s grim in places and definitely filled with the hum of shady folk having shady conversations in shaded places. The steps of the Opera House, made iconic from that bloody scene in The Godfather 3, might remind you that seriously well-organised organised criminals are born and bred around these parts. They did me. I didn’t stop for selfies, just shuffled on minding my bag every few steps and trying not to make contact with black eyed waiters calling for me to dine in their restaurants, unsmiling as they did so. Cursing me when my feet declined and led me on down Via Vittorio Emanuele past their small establishments with the obligatory arrangement of cheap plastic chairs outside. They don’t flirt, and are very unlike their Roman compatriots in their attempts. There’s no wild gesticulation while they pore over you with Signora this, Signora that and ma quanto si bella! It’s just a case of severe eyeballing, an abrupt hand gesture to summon my ass on a plastic chair and the subsequent scorn when I decline the (easy to decline) offer. Bienvenuti a Palermo! 

If you’re a depressive sort altogether, you’ll do as I did, and book a wonderful baroque villa that is unfortunately situated on the very outskirts of the city, pretty much beyond the realms of  human contact. It’s located in an area that offers nothing at all for tourists. There’s a mechanic across the road and a butcher, who surprisingly served the chap I was with, the “greatest Italian dish” he’d every eaten. It was a cooked meat mix, full of gelatinous pork bits, that turned me off as soon as I saw it, but still has the guy talking about it to this very day. (And yes, he bought a cooked food dish in a butchers!) As villas go, it was beautiful, although the gardens were very unkempt, but Villa Bonocore Malleto served great wine and as I’m Irish, that made up for weeds and went some way towards making up for the long taxi distance from the city centre. It’s a quiet spot, with 15 rooms and a lovely private pool, but as I mentioned, it is miles away from civility.

So, Palermo didn’t have a wow factor and my lovely abode was in the wrong place – could there have been a redeeming factor? Well apart from my hiring a cute little FIAT Panda to take all 6 ft 8 of my companion across the island to visit Corleone, which was a fun journey in itself – Sicilian road signs on the rural backroads being vague and infrequent, to say the least. The meal on our last evening was like a lottery win. We happened upon a stunning restaurant near the heart of Palermo on the return from Corleone. Within minutes of our arrival the place had packed to capacity. It literally filled up all at once. Turns out it’s a favourite of students and staff at the local university. The crowd were young with the odd middle-aged ‘oldie’ among them. The banter rose into the Palermo night as we all ate the most delicious plates of fish and veal and every type of pasta. It was truly wonderful. 

And then the pièce de résistance…The next day, on our way to the airport before  returning the car, we took a trip to the seaside town of Mondello. I loved it! It’s everything you’d expect from a seaside resort but has something special about it. The water is a myriad of blues, the beach is very pretty, the horseshoe bay is idyllic. It’s unsurprising that Goethe wrote so fondly about the place. Again, another amazing fish meal was had, by way of our last (supper) lunch, and I regretted not having stayed there for the trip. It’s a place I will return to, to laze on her white sands and dip in her azure sea. There’s a lot to be said for saving the best till last. mondellofish grainnedaly.comvillabonocoremaletto grainnedaly.com

 

Weather or not… The four sessions

Where else only in Ireland would you have names for your sessions? We give them terms of endearment, because the ritual of an Irish session is truly an endearing experience.

Take Ophelia for example. Ophelia was a 1 litre bottle of Jameson, 24 can slab of Coors light and 2 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc over fifteen hours for the three of us at home. (Figures are correct at time of going to press. Three people, all of that sauce, fifteen hours.) The liquids may also have been accompanied by a 6 pack of King crisps, a tube of sour cream and onion Pringles and two bars of Dairymilk. No take-away food was injured in the making of this session as all local take-aways had closed for the day due to an outbreak of fear. Met Éireann had propagated this fear, touting severe weather warnings, which transpired to mean ‘a fair aul wind for an hour or so’. Chippers and Chineses battened down the shutters and kept closed until the breeze passed. We dined on crisps washed down by whiskey and watched a trampoline next door levitate in the breeze. Our Twitter feed showed us the ‘real’ effects of the weather. Leaves had blown from a tree near Manorhamilton. A green bin had toppled over outside Durrow. “It’s quare blowy out haigh”, said an eyewitness in Kileshandra.

Emma was our next big ‘mad one’. A prolonged engagement that lasted the best part of the week. It actually turned out to be the best part of the week! Ireland had been granted a duvet week on account of the island finding itself under a thick blanket of snow. Roads were impassible, schools and businesses were closed. Many shops opened for just skeleton hours, enough for weather stricken Gaels to procure shed loads of sliced pans, Tayto (yes, in times of crisis we can’t get enough potato snacks) and wine – all of which are the staples of any self-respecting Irish household.

And who ever thought snow could be so fattening? Cut off from the gym, washing down your Tayto with vino and lard-arsing your way through the entire back catalogue of Netflix was a thoroughly clothes shrinking experience. But the craic was great all the same. There’s no guilt in opening a second bottle at two in the day when it’s Mongolia outside. Anchored by the blazing fireside, dressed in baggy track bottoms, replenishing vanishing glasses of red and singing ballads was the order of the day. Every day. For a week.

We (I mean I – my brother was trapped in a house in Ballyfermot and my mother is afraid of snow) trudged around to the local filling station through four foot of snow to drag back bales of briquettes, bottles of merlot and fags for the Mammy. The hour-long queues outside when it opened each day were made up of people like me, all in search of crisps, firing and wine. We were allowed in on a five at a time basis, to quickly grab supplies while trying not to slip on floors sloshing with melting snow, then return to the white landscape of Tymon to make the journey around the corner of the estate and up the hill to home. The scenes were reminiscent of 1980s Russia. Lines of people freezing in the cold for provisions. Except we are Irish and we just used storm Emma as good justification for a domestic session. She came, she snowed, we scooped. It didn’t take Glasnost and Perestroika to bring an end to our panicked queuing, just a thaw.

And so for a while, sessions resumed to the usual shadowing of the religious calendar. Glorious St. Patrick, Good Friday and Easter. That is until the next meteorological mystery struck and the country was slow cooked in a heat wave for two months.

The heat wave became the provenance of BBQs and flip flopped feet, flowy maxis and beer. All the beer. I tried Bud Lite for the first time, the perfect accompaniment to the heat. Unprepared for warm weather, or for any type of weather apparently, the nation tossed and turned on top of the bedclothes with windows cast open, accompanied by the odd insect who was equally as confused at the equatorial temperatures. Only a select few own such things as fans. We stared out at yellowed scrub where our gardens had been all our lives and we talked to anyone who’d listen about the rainless tropic that had become Ireland. We prayed for a light breeze, or even just a few clouds – anything to take the edge off. Some of us went so far as to announce that we’d “murder a bit of rain”. I bumped into neighbours in Dunnes Stores. Like me, they had the same idea of just hanging out in the meat coolers to chill a little. We were just short of having picnics there in the fridges. The kids wanted sleepovers. For the first time on record, Irish people had tans. We even had a hosepipe ban. Men got to drive about with the tops down on their middle-age crisis convertibles. People smiled a lot. Did I mention the beer? We christened the summer ‘the heat wave’. Plain and simple. No need for high falutin lyricism, just ‘the heat wave’. And Bud Lite saw us through it.

I can’t wait for the next one. The entire nation dancing round our kitchens to the tune of an oncoming Twister will have us all fit for Dancing with the Stars. The question remains… how many litres of whiskey will see us through a polar vortex?